Senator wants $96 million restored to DHS management

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, says total cuts to Homeland Security management programs could endanger the new personnel system.

A senior lawmaker called on his Senate colleagues Thursday to restore almost $100 million in House-ordered cuts to the Homeland Security Department's management programs.

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said the House had cut $96 million in funding for the DHS Office of the Undersecretary for Management, potentially endangering the implementation of the department's new personnel system, known as MAX HR. Last week, the House voted to take about $26 million specifically targeted for the personnel system and move it to programs that benefit firefighters.

A spokeswoman for Voinovich said DHS management programs, including the new personnel system, were originally slated to receive $146 million.

On Thursday, Voinovich sent a letter to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H.; Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss.; and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., the ranking member on the Appropriations Committee. In the letter, Voinovich said he was "concerned" by the House action and he appealed for a unified effort to restore the funding to the final Homeland Security spending bill. Voinovich is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia.

"I am concerned a series of amendments adopted by the House on May 17, 2005, that reduce funding for the Office of Undersecretary for Management by $96 million will jeopardize the department's ability to effectively implement and manage the new personnel system," Voinovich wrote. "Funding during fiscal year 2005 was cut on the Senate floor, resulting in a slowed implementation approach that now extends into fiscal year 2008. These actions continue congressional negligence of the human capital and management needs of the federal government."

When Congress created DHS, agency officials were allowed to develop their own personnel system. Homeland Security leaders have unveiled an overhaul that would streamline the appeals process, reduce union collective bargaining rights and discard the General Schedule pay system. In place of the GS framework, officials are implementing a pay-for-performance system.

Agency officials and lawmakers have said that Congress must provide sufficient funding for training if the overhaul is to be successful. This week, DHS officials warned that the funding cut could endanger training programs.

Lawmakers and staffers in the House said the system has sufficient funding. Rep. Martin Sabo, D-Minn., said he suspects the initial budget request was "inflated".

Voinovich, however, said DHS had prepared a "thoughtful, deliberate and phased implementation plan."

"I strongly recommend full funding of MAX HR and the Office of the Undersecretary for Management, and I stand ready to assist you in achieving this end," Voinovich wrote. "MAX HR represents a major step in efforts to build a cohesive department from 22 disparate agencies, and it must be a success. I sincerely believe that nothing less than our national security is at stake."